It’s one of the trickiest problems in the workplace: how to manage employees who no longer feel challenged by their jobs.
As much as people complain about being busy, "it’s a heck of a lot better than being bored," says Brigette McInnis-Day, executive vice president of HR at software company SAP.
When high performers get restless, they start looking for other opportunities. And precisely because they are high performers, they’ll have plenty of options. If you’d like to keep them, here are some ideas:
"When people think about their careers, they just don’t know what they want to do," says McInnis-Day. Unfortunately, this malaise is hard for an employer to work with. "So much starts with you first," she adds.
Coaching people toward reflection and building a personal brand can help. If a worker articulates that he or she would like to become a thought leader in marketing, then that provides a plan. "If you don’t know that first, it’s hard for any company to help you get there," she says.
Companies have internal job boards, but they may not be well promoted. Or people may know these positions are already filled, so there’s no upside in applying—and a downside if your manager doesn't like the idea.
When McInnis-Day went into her role at SAP, she began sending out an email with hot jobs. If there was already a preferred candidate, she’d indicate that, but SAP made the process to apply easy, and also viewed this email as a broader opportunity. If people apply, that indicates they’re interested in new tasks at work. That’s usable information.
McInnis-Day might tell a candidate: "You’re not ready for this job, but here’s something else for you."
All companies have internal communications platforms. You can tap into blogs, newsletters, and training webinars to showcase how people have moved between roles.
You may be bored at work, but you're not alone—there are others who figured out how to combat the monotony. "Selectively pick interesting people," McInnis-Day says. "Your career is up to you. The opportunities are here."
This is perhaps the most critical element of retaining talent. From the perspective of a manager who has a high performer working for her, all is well with the world. She may not want to see a high performer move to a different division for new challenges.
You need systems that override this human tendency. You can evaluate managers partly on how well they develop people’s careers. You can showcase managers who have moved their stars and give them more resources to fill in any gaps.
McInnis-Day talks about an SAP program that sends high performers to an international location for a month. While being willing to relocate internationally opens up all sorts of career development possibilities, people with families may view this option as off the table. So they resign themselves to boredom.
A month-long mini-fellowship could be the answer. "It’s [a] small [amount of time] that if you’ve got a family, you could potentially figure something out," says McInnis-Day.
A mini-fellowship keeps people from getting bored, she explains, and gives them exposure to new people who will help their career growth over time.